I was just thinking the other day, in light of some recent events in the news, about the importance of recycling in our lives. Due to increasing concern over the state of the environment, and advances in technology, we as a nation now spend 974 googodzillion dollars on recycling things.
As with many writers, I hesitated even starting this piece, because I was too lazy to perform the necessary research and acquire the supportive data. However, I was able to locate one bit of information that highlights the significance that recycling has taken on in our society. According to a 2007 report prepared by the Institute for Applied Common Sense, in conjunction with the Strand Corporation, the average American adult now spends roughly sixteen of his or her waking hours recycling things.
When I first came across this statistic in a recycling trade association publication, it forced me to think about all of the things that folks recycle these days. I thought about aluminum cans, plastic bags, paper bags, and even spoiled food (to generate compost). I once saw a show on the large number of sets, equipment, and props left on a California beach during the 1930’s or 1940’s after the completion of the filming of a classic, blockbuster film.
During the show, aired during the late 1990’s, the narrator walked us along the beach and pointed out some relics of that film production. That, of course, would not happen today, if for no other reason than the fact that the bean counters in the corporations that run the entertainment media would consider such a disposal as wasteful. Hollywood’s past waste also reminded me of a relatively recent initiative on the part of the United States Defense Department. In a similar vein, the military has recently embraced recycling, at least to some extent.
During the mid -1990’s, my firm served as an outside vendor for one of the largest retail corporations in existence during the 20th Century. My partner and I had the pleasure to meet a retired U.S. Army General, who had been brought on by our client, to address some of the corporation’s distribution, supply, and inventory issues. The general was none other than the general responsible for getting all of our military equipment and personnel into the Middle East, in preparation for the Gulf War, which forced Sadaam Hussein out of Kuwait.
He made one comment that has stuck in my mind since our conversation. He indicated that during virtually all prior foreign wars, the United States military had left behind its heavy equipment and facilities used by our fighting men and women. The Gulf War would be different. The general was not only responsible for retrieving our equipment for re-use, but also getting it back to the States or delivered to other military installations throughout the world, within six months.
Here recently, we’ve heard all sorts of comments by talking heads about our “once great nation,” which is purportedly “on the decline.” Unfortunately, the discussions are usually focused on individual issues about which reasonable people may differ, and thus they blur the real issue. I would agree that something has changed in our mood and our confidence. I would also agree that we appear to be bumbling and stumbling in many areas. However, I believe that the heads who are the closest to hitting the target are the ones that speak of our government’s failure to ask Americans to make a uniform sacrifice in our amorphous war against terrorism.
What made America great in the past was our ability to look beyond our personal, political, and sectarian differences. We used our collective resources, both human and material, in a coordinated effort to achieve a significant goal, or two or three relatively clearly defined goals. Simply put, the vast, vast, vast majority of the country bought into the program, or at least reached some consensus.
We as humans have long understood that any collection of human beings, be it a family, a team, an army, or a nation, functions at its highest level when the members all appreciate the goals, buy into the goals, and execute on a collective level. That’s what made America great – the collective effort. In his overlooked work, The Disuniting of America, (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1282/is_n9_v44/ai_12122328), legendary Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761556940/Schlesinger_Arthur_Meier_Jr_.html) wrote of how the pursuit of individual self-interests by special interest groups has led to America’s inability to unify its efforts. He wrote of the continuing disintegration of our society driven by the pursuit of individual goals, not collective goals. (Interestingly, America’s response, at least on an emotional level, to our effort to push Sadaam out of Kuwait in the first Gulf War, was cited as an aberration and example of the power of the collective will.)
I vaguely recall a song some thirty or so years ago, the title and words I seem incapable locating these days. It spoke of our disposable society, and “plastic skates, cardboard plates, and wigs instead of hair.” Disillusionment and disaffection – that’s what hurting our country, and contributing to widespread malaise and apathy. If you’re fortunate enough to be doing well in America at this point in time, then things look rosy to you. However, many of the human resources, in which we have theoretically made an investment, are being tossed aside on a regular and blatant basis. Far too many folks (particularly those born in this country as were their parents) make personal investments in America and become disappointed. That’s not to say that we should coddle everyone. However, we’ve figured out how to invest in things, be they made of plastic, rubber, steel, aluminum, or wood, and then recycle them. For some reason, we haven’t figured out how to do that with human beings.
What is particularly poignant about this notion is that we just went through an “unsettling” period with the Michael Vick dog-fighting thing. I consider myself a reasonably astute guy; however, I still to this day can’t quite figure out why we humans don't get as upset about what we regularly do to other humans. This is not to suggest that I dislike dogs, or fail to appreciate the concept of protecting animals from cruelty. However, what was the real issue? We discard (or should I say “toss aside”) humans every day in one form or another.
Here recently, CNN (http://www.cnn.com/) aired one of its Special Investigation episodes, entitled “Waging War on the V.A.” When I saw the trailer for the then upcoming piece, I was immediately drawn to the picture of a human being whose face and head were unrecognizable as those of a human. It was the story of Ty Ziegel, a young soldier sent to Iraq to fight, and who was severely injured by an explosive device. Shortly thereafter, he held up a cast of his head, with a massive section of the skull removed (which made me gasp), only to indicate that the cast reflected the extent of the damage to his skull. His face appeared as a collage of skin grafts more closely resembling paper mache, than human skin. When the show aired, the bombshell exploded – our V. A. had “dissed” him by rating him at partial disability levels for many of his injuries, resulting in a total monthly disability check in the neighborhood of $2,700; not the check in the neighborhood of $4,000 that he and his significant other expected.
After watching the show for twenty minutes, I simply turned it off. I could not watch any more of it. I walked away and switched to a sitcom. Then it hit me – that’s what most of America has done to these young men and women who have given their lives on behalf of “freedom and democracy,” at the request of our government. They’ve done everything, and more, that we have asked of them. It also reminded me of a movie that debuted in 1946, “The Best Years of Our Lives,” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036868 ) which chronicled the difficulties encountered by three servicemen returning to the same small, mid-western town, after their valiant service during World War II. In 1947, it won Academy Awards in eight categories, including Best Picture, Best Leading Actor (Fredric March), and Best Director (William Wyler). It must have struck a chord.
The difference now is that the average one of us is not personally and directly affected by the impact of this sacrifice that we ask these boys and girls to make. We have a small, volunteer army, and the vast majority of Americans are not invested. I tell you what we could do. Our government spends thousands of dollars training soldiers to be leaders and to deal with difficult situations – the most difficult.
After they get a little banged up and are no longer of use to our military, and return to the States, we seemingly do not know what to do with them. How about reinvesting in them, and recycling them. The task should begin with the re-training of returning officers and high-level non-commissioned officers. Can you imagine anyone more committed to the success of an enterprise than a guy or a gal willing to take a bullet or an explosive device. The captains of American industry should lead the way.
If we can recycle things, and get so worked up about dogs, we ought to at least be able to figure out a way to get a better return on our investment in human beings. Who knows, perhaps knowing “who threw the dogs out” will have some positive influence on America in the days to come. Now I’m through.
© 2007, The Institute for Applied Common Sense